When Tom arrived at the Point, the Betazoid who had been with the human the first night Ro and Tom were in the bar was leaving by a side entrance. Deliberately bumping into him, Tom found himself staring into eyes like black holes. Apologizing loudly, he added in a whisper, "Get word to the vedek. There's trouble. Tell her to come back here, and the rest of you, get ready to leave immediately!"
The Betazoid stared at him. "I don't know what you are talking about."
"Just tell her that Supplicant Partom told you, 'The 'Fleet is in.' She'll know what I mean. Go, now!"
The man looked around uneasily. "She has to go to the Port Master as pilot to take the ship off planet."
"Send someone else. There's no time!"
The black eyes became troubled, and the man nodded as he left.
Minutes later, Ro appeared, angry and upset. "What's going on? Suder was going on about the Fleet. . . "
"I don't want to know his name, Laren. We've been betrayed, and I may have been followed. Even if I haven't, it can't be long before they come here. You have to get your people out immediately. I saw three men, and I know they were Starfleet."
"They were talking to our landlord and landlady. One of them forgot to shave off his Starfleet sideburns on one side. You have to go, now! Let me draw them away from you."
"Tom, you'll be arrested as a Maquis. You'll go to prison!"
"Laren, there were lots of people who thought I got off easy after Caldik Prime, that I should have gone to prison then. And besides, if you let me have The Eye of the Prophet, maybe I can still escape."
"And maybe you won't! Tom, you haven't even had a chance for this cause to mean anything to you!"
"You mean everything to me, Ro Laren. That's the cause I need. I need to know you're safe. Even if they catch me, what will they find out? The names of two Starfleet officers that resigned to fight for the Maquis? Big surprise there. The name of one planetoid hideout? If you get away, that will be old news. You'll all be gone and will never go back. The name of a Betazoid engineer who'd make a good Bogeyman to scare bad kids into good ones? Terrific intelligence, just what they're looking for, I'm sure. Don't you see, I don't know anything, Laren. It's no liability if I'm caught. Can you say the same? I don't think so."
"No, I won't let you do this. You go back to the…."
He put his finger on her lips to shush her. "Don't say it, don't let me know what it is you were working on, names, anything. Can you imagine how pissed they're going to be when they get a cashiered nobody when they were after Lieutenant Ro Laren, deserter? Don't kid yourself, Laren. It's you they're after. You'll serve a deserter's sentence. Twenty-five years to life, if I recall, and in a hellhole, I bet. Me, what will they give me? The admiral's son will get five to ten in a country club of a place. I'll be out in three. Hell, I may get back before the whole thing is over to fight next to you again!"
His false bravado did not fool her for a second. His eyes told a different tale. He was frightened to his soul, but unbelievably brave. As Ro fought him, fought herself, she knew she fought the truth. They were after her; he was right. And Tom was expendable in a way she was not.
Her heart tore in her chest. Those blue eyes gazing into hers - she would never see them looking at her again that way. The feel of his golden body would be lost to her forever. If by some miracle they ever met again, it could never be the same for them. She felt it, a sure and certain knowledge in her shattering heart.
Ro Laren wanted to run from her mission again, fly away somewhere with Thomas Eugene Paris where no one would ever find them, to hold him close to her and never let him out of her sight again. Even to be taken with him and sent to prison - there were some that let a couple be together. Better that than a lifetime without those eyes, that smile! She had been to prison. She knew she could bear it, probably more readily than he.
But she knew she wouldn't run. Not willingly. People were depending upon her. And those trusting eyes looking at her belonged to one who was willing to sacrifice his entire future, his life, if need be, for her. Even as she struggled to try to find an answer that would enable them all to escape together, Tom said the one, last thing that sealed both of their fates.
"For once in my life, let me do something important for somebody else. I have a debt to pay for what I did at Caldik Prime. I can never bring those people back to life. Let me at least give you your life, give those engineers their lives back. I can do this, Laren. Please, let me."
His eyes were tearing up, and her own were misting over. Ro threw her arms around him, hugged him tightly. She kissed him deeply, knowing that it was for the last time. At his bidding, she numbly removed the vedek's robes and handed them to him. "Hey, like I said, maybe I can do some really fancy flying, and I'll be back with you in no time. But these robes I can use. "
In complete silence Tom reached out and stroked her face. Gently, he traced along the side of her jaw, her nose, finally her mouth, grazed by his thumb. The softest of touches. Good-bye, Laren, they said. I love you, Laren, they said. She brought her hand up to stroke the back of the hand touching her. I love you, Tom. Good-bye, Tom.
Without a backward glance she slipped out the back door in her skin-tight jumpsuit. Her long stride lengthened; her hips began to waggle in the "working girl strut" as Ro Laren fought off the tears that threatened to pour down her cheeks.
She had a job to do. Tom's sacrifice would be wasted if she did not get B'Elanna, Jonas, and Suder away to safety. Ro's throat and chest were painfully tight as she held back the tears that could overwhelm her. If they did, it would be for the first time in her adult life. Ro Laren had never broken down and truly cried since the time the child Laren realized that the more she screamed in terror, the more excited the abusive commandant became. Even as her heart protested the pain she felt, Ro Laren strolled down the narrow streets of the 'port, the perfect "working girl" on the prowl, headed for the comrades in arms for whom she was responsible , so she could get them all on their way.
All, except for her love.
He was lucky. He didn't have to wait long. A "working girl" close to Ro's height, although a good fifteen years older, strolled into the Point about ten minutes after Ro had left. She was even part Bajoran, mixed with something else. Ktarian, probably - he could not tell for sure. In the robes and peaked veil of a vedek, however, she would pass.
The half strip of latinum he could pay her normally would not have been enough, but when Tom told her about what he had in mind, it was just kinky enough for her to give him a discount. She had always wanted to do it in zero gravity.
The "vedek" and her "novice" took a leisurely stroll out of the Point. Taking a circuitous route to The Eye of the Prophet to increase the chances that the watchers he knew were there would pick up their trail, Tom gave her a quick tour of the small ship when he stopped to pick up an important data padd. The woman did not wish to leave The Eye, but he insisted she accompany him to the Port Master's office. The data padd, one of five which Ro had prepared for Tom on their trip in case of an emergency, gave instructions to the Port Master to permit her novice, Supplicant Partom, permission to leave Port Hakkarond with one guest, whose presence was urgently needed on Bajor.
The Port Master never noticed that the guest had not been mentioned by name, as The Eye of the Prophet was the second ship that would be leaving the 'port in less than an hour. He had been busy finishing the filing of the paperwork for the tajtIq, a rebuilt cargo ship of Klingon Empire registry, bound home for the Klingon border planet of mI'voq. The pilot/owner was a young woman whose features were characteristic of the inhabitants from that world, softer and less detailed than those of most Klingons. Belrath had been somewhat nervous. This was, she had said "the first ship I can call my own."
The Port Master had wished her well, although he was concerned about her odd traveling companion, her Betazoid navigator, a man who projected a most unusual air of menace for one of that race. Of course, Klingons and Betazoids were not frequently seen in each other's company anyway. Perhaps the man's odd demeanor was a result of having lived among Klingons for a long time. The Port Master did not think he would be happy living with Klingons for long. Too intense.
As Vedek Larys' charming young novice was finishing the pilot's papers and filing the flight plan for his journey to Bajor, the sound of a cargo ship lifting off from the 'port could be heard. "That must be the tajtIq, the Klingon woman's ship," said the Port Master with satisfaction. "Good journey!" the bureaucrat said, just as he said every time he heard a ship lift off from his spaceport.
A strangely melancholic look passed over Supplicant Partom's face at this, as he added softly, "A very good journey, and a safe one." The Port Master noted the young man's reverent face. Such a sensitive young man would be a credit to his order when he became a vedek, although the female vedek he was bringing to Bajor seemed rather coarse. Not from the same religious order, perhaps.
"Oh, Partom, this is exciting! I've never been off planet, can you believe it? And me born in Port Hakkarond, the biggest space port on Delistor! When do we get up to orbit? Can we go to zero gravity right away? I heard that orgasms can last for five times as long in zero gravity. Have you ever…"
As he manipulated the controls of The Eye of the Prophet, Tom tried to figure out how he could survive the company of this flower of Port Hakkarond's native female population long enough to do what he had to do. The tajtIq must have been the Maquis ship, piloted officially by the Klingon woman, although Ro was no doubt doing the real flying. /I love you, Ro Laren,/ he thought again to her, even though now, with any luck, her ship was already at warp and long gone from the Delistor system.
Once he had attained orbit, Tom had to decide what to do next. He had hoped to find a way to leave the "vedek" behind him at the 'port, but she stuck too closely for him to slip away onto The Eye of the Prophet alone. Tom would risk being charged with the crime of abduction if he fled the system with his passenger. Any slim chance he might have had to get away had evaporated when this woman climbed into the scout ship.
Tom also knew that he would not be able to keep his companion happy for long without "performing," and for the first time in his memory, the thought of having sex revolted him. He was half-hoping the 'Fleeters would capture him before it came to that, even though he doubtlessly would be spending several celibate years in prison once they did. Tom would rather have the memory of Ro's hands as the last to touch his body, even if his celibacy were to last decades, than for this shrill woman to grapple with him.
"So, when are we going to do it? Are there straps, or are we going to just float around. Do you want me to give you a suck job first to get you started? I don't do whips, but I have cufflinks here and…"
"Garinta, that is your name, isn't it?"
"Yes, sweet thing. That's what they call me."
"I have several things to do to make sure all is well before we can have that . . . celestial experience I promised you. Do you think you could let me concentrate for a few minutes on those things so that I can concentrate on you when the time comes?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Sure sweet thing. It's your latinum."
Tom turned back to his controls. It was funny, but this Garinta seemed familiar. Must remind him of somebody he knew, although off-hand, he couldn't think of who it might be. It wasn't important anyway.
First, he set the helm controls to head them out of the system. Half-impulse was fast enough. Next he set up a cascade failure in the navigational computer. Once the console lights were blinking rapidly, warning of imminent collapse, Tom turned his attentions to the Comm system. The logs from all of The Eye of the Prophet's journeys had to be totally erased; Tom had no way of knowing how many Maquis strongholds the ship may have visited, even before Ro had started to fly it.
Finally, when the entire console was glittering with blinking warning lights the pilot had to grit his teeth to ignore, it was time to dump the warp core. Tom's fingers flew across the controls. The entire ship thunked solidly as the core was released.
Now they were headed outsystem, in a disabled ship, without navigational systems or communications. The only way that Tom and this Garinta would survive would be if Starfleet were to show up. Or the Cardassians. In his present mood, he might prefer the Cardassians. They would probably kill him quickly once they realized the ruse.
Tom turned back to Garinta. He could no longer delay the inevitable. His last act of sex would be with a woman who disgusted him. His just desserts, perhaps, for his own behavior during the last three years. The woman was looking at him oddly, however. He peered into her face. "Do I know you from somewhere?"
"I know I did you before, Sweetie, but I just haven't been able to remember when we . . . wait a minute. You!" she shrieked. "The blue eyed pauper! I hoped we'd ended you! Stole my liquor money on me, you did!" She raised her hands and started swinging at him.
Grabbing onto the bar above the helm chair, Tom punched the gravity control buttons. As Garinta launched herself across the craft, she suddenly lost her footing at the loss of gravity and shot across the vehicle, screaming all the while. Tom's grip on the bar helped him control his own movements, but the hand of the angry prostitute/thief caught him on the mouth as she flew by him, cutting a gash across his lip. Her head landed on the support next the viewscreen, half knocking her out. Although she bounced a bit from wall to wall, she was no longer a profanely cursing missile headed straight for Tom.
The whine of the transporter a few seconds later was almost a welcome sound. The Starfleet security guards were rougher than he had expected, perhaps because of the unexpected zero gravity conditions. In seconds, however, Tom found himself face down on the floor, normal gravity restored, with the full weight of a security man on his spine. Tasting his own salty blood in his mouth, Tom resignedly listened to the words, "You are under arrest for treason."
"It's not her, I tell you."
"But you said she would be dressed like a vedek."
Commander Wilton looked at Ensign Farhourtka with an amused air. "Do you have any idea how many vedeks there are on Delistor II, let alone in this sector? This is not Ro Laren, I tell you, vedek robes or not. This fine specimen of humanity, however, is the pride of Caldik Prime, Thomas Paris. How wonderful to make your acquaintance, Mr. Paris. Mr. Admiral's Son Thomas Paris. So you landed with the Maquis, too. Why am I not surprised?"
"What are you talking about, Commander? I've been studying Bajoran religion with the vedeks of . . . "
"Don't bother, Paris. You're a Maquis, too. We have information that proves it without a doubt. You aided and abetted the escape of a deserter from Starfleet, former Lieutenant Ro Laren, former Lieutenant Paris. That Eye ship will yield lots of DNA evidence linking you with Ro. Lying is a waste of breath."
"I don't deny I was with Ro. We are old friends from the Academy. She rescued me from the streets of Delistor when I was beaten up a month ago, and she's been caring for me from then on. Ro's a vedek, now. Check with the landlady, Lalley, in the boarding house at the edge of the 'port warehouse district. They'll tell you. Vedek Larys is known for her good works there. I was working myself in the . . ."
"Shut up, Paris. You've been seen with the Maquis. Your ass is ours."
Tom did not find out anything else. The interrogation was interrupted by a young lieutenant, resplendent in his red and black uniform, who entered the brig. Looking distastefully at the scowling prostitute and a grim-faced Tom, the lieutenant said, "Commander Wilton, a Cardassian ship is hailing us. Gul Evek is demanding custody of the prisoners for crimes against Cardassia."
Wilton laughed mirthlessly. "Tell the Gul that their interest in the prisoners is duly noted, but that their source will just have to be a bit quicker to notify them next time. Oh, and you can also tell them that the 'Big One' got away."
Turning back to Tom after the lieutenant's departure, the commander sneered, "Of course, sending this 'Little Fish' to prison will be very satisfying to me personally. Lock him up, Ensign. And put his paramour in her own cell."
As Ensign Farhourtka pushed the controls that would lock Tom in his cell, he was silent. They really hadn't had a chance. Not one leak - at least two sources were sending out information: one to the Federation, the other to the Cardassians. Tom did not bother to speculate on who the informants might be. What did it matter to him now? He was caught, and he would rather not think about what was going to happen to him, or about anything else, except that Laren and the others had gotten away. At least he could be grateful for that.
Anyone looking at Tom would have had trouble ascertaining his true feelings. His face bore a smirk, the kind Tom could almost sustain in his sleep. His heart ached, though, and the pit of his stomach was sore from clenching the muscles tightly to keep his carriage proudly erect, his arrogant posture a match for the expression on his face. As the force field of his cell in the brig shimmered brightly, beginning his incarceration for who knew how long, Tom's mind was on Ro. /Be safe, Laren, just be safe./
He walked to a wall of the cell and leaned against it, both hands high above his head. Closing his eyes, he called up her image to his mind. Beautiful Laren. His heart was heavy, as he remembered her, recalling one thing he wished he'd done.
/God, Laren, I forgot to ask you to smile for me. Just one more time, to smile. You never smiled enough./
"Ro, aren't you ready? Chakotay is leaving in twenty minutes! You have to come now!"
The Bajoran looked up at B'Elanna Torres as she whirled in, a dynamo of energy and ferocity. Ro would miss her.
"I'm not going with you to Langaredoc, B'Elanna. I'm taking the freighter back to Bajor. I have some unfinished business there." Ro picked up the last of the clothing in her bottom drawer and threw it into a large duffel. B'Elanna looked at it in surprise. Men's underwear. The half-Klingon shook her head.
"You aren't bothering to take HIS stuff, are you? He's not coming back, you know."
Ro shook her head sadly, a short sound that could be either a chuckle or a sob issuing from her throat. "Oh, yes, B'Elanna, how well I know he won't be back. He'll be spending the next couple of decades in prison, serving my sentence." When Ro's eyes met B'Elanna's, the engineer saw that they were red-rimmed, as if she had been crying. But Ro Laren never cried. Ro had said it herself - she never cried.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Ro. Chakotay is sure he was a spy. That's why we're bugging out of here!"
"A spy. Chakotay STILL thinks he's a spy, after all that's happened? Sweet Prophets, B'Elanna! If he were a spy, the Federation would have arrived hours ago and cleaned us all out of here! Why can't he see that!" Ro's forehead was furrowed in irritation.
"Seska said that he was a drunk and a womanizer…"
Ro interrupted B'Elanna forcefully. "Seska says a lot of things that are complete bullshit, Torres. Watch your back around her. She's a snake, I swear by the Prophets. She will do something to destroy you all someday if you aren't careful."
"Ro, I know you're upset. He was your friend, and all. But taking it out on Seska is not going to help. Come with us, Ro, and forget about him. He isn't worth it. We could use your help. You're a good pilot."
"So was he, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna silently cursed at herself for being so hard on Ro. She obviously loved the bum. Seska had admitted to that. Even if Paris had been a total pig, Ro's feelings should be respected. Would she ever learn to control this wild Klingon side of hers?
Ro was not really upset with B'Elanna. Her heart was heavy as she turned back to her packing. One more shelf, and then she could go to the freighter, go home to Bajor. Vedek Bariel had offered her sanctuary when she was struggling with her conscience while undercover against the Maquis. Ro would take him up on his offer now. He was a good man, true to his word, unlike some vedeks she had known. If anyone could help her out of the morass that was her life, he could.
Holding the satchel up to the shelf, Ro scooped the contents into the bag. Odds and ends, mostly. A few data padds. One, she noted, did not appear to be hers. After the shelf had been cleared, Ro sat down on the stripped bed and poked around in the bag, finally locating the odd one she had not recognized. Ro did not recall borrowing one from anyone since coming to the Maquis.
Then, it hit her: Tom. B'Elanna was still chattering to her about coming with her to the next Maquis hideout when Ro turned the padd on. It was a list. "Watering Hole: 25 credits, 5 paid. Coranda Rest: 43 credits, 20 paid. Tidiliclickso Room: 28 credits. 5 paid. Latinum Shrine: 21 credits, 18 paid. . . .
Ro stared at the padd for a long time, digesting the contents. The Latinum Shrine, credits owed, credits paid. "Bar bills. His debts. That's what he wanted to be paid for. So he could pay his fucking bar bills at places he would never go to again! Tom, you idiot! Tom!" Her heart cried out louder than her voice did as something broke inside of her. A torrent of feelings that had long been buried within her erupted, torn free by the honorable act of a man of worth that she could never expect to see in this life again.
As Ro began to cry, hoarse, wracking sobs coming from a throat that hadn't known how to make those sounds in almost twenty years, B'Elanna backed up a step. She had never been good around this kind of raw emotion. But this was incredible - Ro Laren crying! And over a man who was a mercenary, without any principles - only fighting for the money to pay off his bar tabs!
B'Elanna did feel somewhat uneasy as she recalled that they had escaped while he had been captured; but it wasn't as if someone she really knew had been caught. And Chakotay was sure he'd been an agent. Chakotay knew about these things, while Torres did not. Warp cores were more her style.
Confused, B'Elanna did not know what to do at that moment. She knew she could not leave Ro like this, but she had no idea what she could do for her, either. "Ro, are you OK? I'm going to have to go now. Ro?" B'Elanna gingerly touched the shoulder of the crying Bajoran woman, who turned her tear-stained face toward the engineer.
Gasping for breath, Ro grasped B'Elanna's hand to hold her near until she had smeared the back of her hand over her face to wipe away most of the tears. Calming herself enough to speak, she said, in a broken voice, "B'Elanna, I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to get to know you better. You're a good kid. Remember what I said about Seska. And help Chakotay. He's just too trusting. He's got a blind spot about Seska. He needs to have someone like you around."
Relieved that Ro seemed to be getting a grip on herself, B'Elanna nodded her head. "I will. I have to go now, Ro. Are you sure you're going to be all right?"
"Yes, B'Elanna, I'll be OK. And B'Elanna, can you give a message to Chakotay for me?"
"Sure I will. What is it?
"Tell him he was right. Tom Paris did break my heart. But tell him I was right, too. He didn't just leave me. He said good-bye. He did it right. Can you tell Chakotay that for me?"
B'Elanna assured Ro she would as she tried to absorb the message. She repeated it a few times to herself as she ran to Chakotay's ship, but she didn't remember Ro's message until later that night. Once she remembered, B'Elanna relayed what she remembered to him. Ro had told her to tell Chakotay that Tom had broken Ro's heart, but he had done it the right way. B'Elanna wasn't sure what that meant, but she passed it on, hoping the Maquis cell leader would know.
Before Ro Laren left Malagra, she completed an errand. Stopping by the Latinum Shrine, Ro paid the barkeep the last three credits Tom had owed for his bar bill.
A month later, a message was delivered to Chakotay's rooms at the Maquis base at Langaredoc. It contained a newsnet description of the conviction of Admiral Owen Paris' son Thomas Eugene Paris, who had been cashiered from Starfleet for falsifying reports after a fatal shuttle crash. Young Paris had been sentenced to fifteen to twenty-five years at Auckland Rehabilitation Colony for the crime of treason. The newsnet piece included a visual log clip of Paris as he was led out of the courtroom, arms and legs encircled by electronic shackles. A man in the uniform of a Starfleet admiral was visible behind the convict, comforting a distraught, hysterically crying woman.
The message included a short addendum from Ro Laren: "So, do you still think he's a spy, Chakotay?"
The message was retrieved by Chakotay's housemate Seska, who smiled secretly to herself as she punched "delete."